A Labor of Love

Posted by Paula Mullen, ALDF's Executive Assistant on March 17, 2008

The other day, my mother called me in need of some advice. Some friends of hers had just adopted a 3-year old dog named Toby from their local animal shelter, and they were having some problems with him urinating in the house. I told her they should call their veterinarian in case there was a medical problem, and also call the shelter where they adopted him for some housetraining tips. I also said I would email her some links to dog behavior handouts that she could give them. (The Denver Dumb Friends League has a great resource on their website that many animal shelters around the country use for canine behavior issues, from house soiling to barking to aggression.)

My mom then got off the phone so she could bring them a dog crate to try. A few days later, she emailed me, despondent. Apparently, her friends didn’t want to put forth the effort to housetrain him, so they gave poor Toby back to the shelter.

I must admit that I wasn’t surprised. This scenario is all too familiar to me, having once worked in the animal sheltering world and having had too many encounters with people who want a ready-made, perfect animal. The sad fact is that there are people out there who aren’t willing to take a little bit of extra time to work with a common, minor issue such as housetraining.

Nicole and AlecWhat is especially disheartening about this selfish desire for perfection is that it is in sharp contrast to the extreme self-sacrifice that one of my coworkers is demonstrating with her dog’s much more serious situation. My coworker Nicole is the proud mom of a 7-year-old rescued German Shepherd named Alec (aka Ali). One day over a month ago, Ali came home limping after a trip to the park. By the time she got him to the vet (within an hour), he was no longer able to use his back legs. Nicole did everything the vet recommended, including surgery, to fix a ruptured disk. Just a few days after the first surgery, the same disk ruptured a second time, so it was back to the operating room again. He came through the second surgery okay and is now out of the vet hospital and with Nicole. He has not yet regained feeling in his back legs, and she faces the possibility that this may be a permanent situation.

Now he has several weeks of cage rest ahead of him. He cannot go up any stairs, so she has dramatically rearranged her living situation and found temporary housing on the ground floor. She also must express his bladder several times a day. This is a difficult procedure to learn, to say the least. In the beginning, she had to pay a vet tech to come by every day and make sure the bladder was getting completely emptied so he didn’t develop an infection. Due to her determination, however, in a very short amount of time she has become very good at it, and she has the vet come by every few days to check his bladder.

Alec in his wagon.She has to be very careful so that the disk won’t rupture again, and he mostly must rest and stay calm, but she can sometimes take him outside in a wagon for some fresh air. At her veterinarian’s recommendation, she is already doing some physical therapy with Ali while he is recovering, and she will schedule sessions with a physical therapist after his recovery. After his healing period, she will spend even more money to buy him a cart (doggie wheelchair). Dogs like him do well with the carts, and we all look forward to the day when Ali can once again join our staff dogs on a dog walk. I have a sneaking suspicion that he’ll love being the fastest one with his new set of wheels.

I am happy to report that his spirits are up, he quietly plays with his toys and he is eating just fine. He especially enjoys kongs filled with peanut butter.

I am deeply humbled by Nicole’s dedication and intense drive to do anything for Ali, no matter what sacrifices she has to make. And there are many sacrifices that this situation is asking of her. If he doesn’t regain the use of his back legs, she will have to express his bladder every day for the rest of his life. She plans to permanently move from her upstairs apartment in a city that she loves, away from many of her friends, so that Ali can live in a ground floor dwelling. She won’t be able to leave him with just anyone when she travels for work.  

The amazing thing is that Nicole doesn’t dwell on these negatives, but instead is overwhelmed with gratitude that Ali is still alive and with her, and doing so well.

Many people would not do what Nicole is doing, even if they had the financial and physical means to do so. Her self-denial and sheer determination to make Ali’s life comfortable, healthy and happy is truly awe-inspiring. If she can do all this with little help or resources, and with a smile on her face, it should give us all pause.

So maybe my mom’s friends didn’t work out for Toby, but maybe there is someone out there with even 10% of Nicole’s love and dedication, who will gladly take him and his extremely minor, fixable housetraining issue. I sure hope so.

My wish is that all of the Toby’s in the world will someday have devoted parents like Nicole to love and care for them. I think Ali would wholeheartedly agree.

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